Should Libraries Celebrate the Holidays?

Should Libraries Celebrate Holidays

When it comes to the holidays, libraries tend to take two distinct stances in an attempt to welcome all. Some libraries try to celebrate as many holidays as possible, planning events for Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa at the end of the year.  Others, recognizing that libraries that try to celebrate many holidays still tend to leave some out (I’ve yet to see a library advertise an Islamic holiday event, for instance), prohibit holiday events and decorations all together.  This policy is also meant to ensure that patrons who do not celebrate a specific holiday do not feel alienated by decorations or left out of certain programs.  Both approaches are intended to present the library as an inclusive community space.  But I often wonder which approach community members would prefer.

For my own part, I prefer libraries that try to celebrate as many holidays as possible.  I personally do not see decorations or programs for holidays other than my own as offensive or alienating.  Rather, I like to see the library trying to celebrate as many traditions as possible.  To me, a community space recognizing a holiday is that space saying, “You are welcome here.  We appreciate and value your traditions.”  If the holiday is not one I celebrate, it becomes an opportunity for me to learn more about another religion or culture.  To me, recognizing the existence of a holiday is what constitutes inclusion–not pretending the holiday does not exist.

Of course, the dilemma is that there are many holidays libraries do not celebrate and so some people may feel left out to see (mainly Christian) holidays recognized.  I think the answer to this, however, is to include more programming, not less.  I imagine the real hurdle librarians face in these circumstances is that they may not know enough about a certain holiday to know how to celebrate it in a meaningful, respectful way.  In such cases, I think it would be wise for the library to reach out to community partners who can help lead more diverse programming, giving the community an opportunity to learn more about traditions other than their own.  I believe such learning is important to help combat misunderstandings and prejudice.

I appreciate the intent behind a library prohibiting any acknowledgement of holidays.  They do not wish to alienate the family who does not believe in Halloween or the family who is tired of seeing Christmas decorations everywhere when they do not celebrate Christmas.  However, holidays are important moments that tend to draw the community together, and so it makes sense to me to have a community space recognize these days.  I also wonder if these libraries are not missing an opportunity to spread more awareness of more cultures and more traditions.

What do you think?  Does your library celebrate any holidays?  Do you think the library should celebrate holidays?

27 thoughts on “Should Libraries Celebrate the Holidays?

  1. Caitlin @ Caitlin Althea says:

    I think that libraries should definitely celebrate holidays! For me, reading is being part of a community, so like you said, when libraries celebrate holidays, it makes me feel like they respect traditions, and it just heightens the feeling that I’m part of a community. I do think that libraries should try and diversify the holidays they celebrate in order to reflect how diverse books are becoming now, and also to become more inclusive.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Krysta says:

      Yes! I love seeing the community come together! When libraries don’t acknowledge holidays, it feels weird to me. Like all these people are celebrating and the library is studiously ignoring that fact.

      And there are so many ways they could acknowledge the holidays! Even if they don’t decorate for them, they could have a lecture about the history of a holiday tradition or some sort of craft night that includes multiple holidays.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. cryptomathecian says:

    I’m not in favor of libraries who’re overdoing this but also not in favor of ignoring it. A little table with some book exposition about the event in a corner with some discrete decoration should do it.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I can see how the end of the year particularly might pose a challenge with all its holidays! One thing I’ve seen done is an event that includes multiple traditions. For instance, a craft night with stations for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and general winter stuff (snowmen, snowflakes, etc.). That way, you acknowledge community traditions without overextending staff to do a bunch of holiday programming all at once.

      Liked by 1 person

      • cryptomathecian says:

        Winter time is usually high season for most libraries since lots of people are twiddling their thumbs and want to do something “mental” or “artistically” during these otherwise lost months.

        Like

  3. alilovesbooks says:

    I’m in Scotland and I can definitely remember some Christmas decorations last year but not much else. I would be happy for the library to celebrate different holidays as I’m always keen to learn more about different cultures and beliefs. The library is always pretty empty too so anything they can do to bring more people in can only be a good thing.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      If libraries are afraid they will look like they will look to partial to particular religions, I think they could go the educational route. Maybe lectures on the history of a holiday or a panel of community leaders discussing their holiday, what it means to them, misconceptions they hear a lot, etc. I would totally attend!

      Like

  4. Debbie @ Brewing Colour says:

    I love this post since it’s not really something I’d thought of before! I definitely prefer it when libraries celebrate holidays (I think mine does the major ones?) as I think it helps to bring the space alive and gives it some community spirit which I think always goes down well!

    Like

  5. BookerTalk says:

    I’m wondering what form these celebrations take. In our main branch all they do is make a small display that highlights the name of the festival and gives a selection of some books that might be linked to it. Seems like there is an opportunity to do more than that – for example Diwali could have local children making rangoli, (a colorful artwork made with rice powder), or displays of traditional Indian costumes…..
    I wouldn’t expect a library to do every festival but it should be possible to do the main one from each region of the world.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I’ve seen some libraries go all. Maybe an altar for Dia de los Muertos with a little lecture of what the holiday is. Halloween parties. Christmas and Hanukkah craft nights. Some libraries will even put up lights, a tree, and a menorah. Other libraries won’t even put up a book display, for fear of offending someone. But I think allowing people to learn about other traditions is more helpful than pretending those traditions don’t exist because someone might be offended by it.

      Like

  6. YariGarciaWrites says:

    I also believe that more is better, not only to make people feel welcome, but also to educate.

    However, I can see why libraries opt out, as they may not have the funds required. I think that’s the big driver of what libraries do ~ can we afford it?

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      One thing I’ve seen work is children’s craft nights that will include Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa all at once. Materials are usually paper, glue, craft sticks, stuff libraries already have in storage. I think lectures or panels would also be fairly cheap since I don’t think libraries usually pay for people if doing community outreach is already part of their jobs.

      Like

  7. Samantha D. says:

    I WHOLE HEARTEDLY agree with you on this! It always makes me sad when libraries go the opposite direction and end up not supporting or celebrating anything in an effort to not leave anyone out. I think it would be super helpful to reach out to the community, survey them, and find out what holidays/celebrations/traditions they are lacking, and have those community members help figure out the best way to bring those celebrations into the library.
    Looking at the library as a community center is SO important. We need to think more like this, and less like the traditional “library.”
    It is such a great opportunity to include the community in the library, and really give everyone a lesson on other cultures and traditions. It’s a step in the right direction to have a collection of books and materials dedicated to specific holidays but you can always do one better by bringing that culture and those traditions fully into the library with programming, decorations and information.

    THIS is such a great post. I always love your library related content :]

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I’m a little baffled by the logic that, to leave no one out, we should leave everyone out. I know one library that won’t even host a collection bin for Christmas toys anymore because, I suppose, it seems too much like favoritism. But I think the library is a great space for a donation site because tons of people go there already and are familiar with it, and can just drop something off. And I think the community would like to come together around something like that. I don’t think people who don’t celebrate would be offended by the idea of giving kids toys?

      I’d love to see the library do a community survey because I suspect many people would ask for more holiday programming and recognition! It’s disheartening to me to see libraries go in this direction because it really doesn’t seem like a community-centered decision.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Samantha D. says:

        That is so upsetting! I know from personal experience that a lot of people also think to donate things to the library (toys, books, craft supplies, etc.) when they are doing their own cleaning and such, so I totally agree with you that it is a natural donation site.

        I just think that while it may take a lot of extra effort and time/money, it is worth it to keep everyone involved and supported. It makes the library look lazy to not put in the extra effort so that everyone can be included. And I mean, some communities might not need to celebrate every holiday. Everywhere is different, which is why a survey of the area and people we serve can only help us in figuring out how to best support everyone.

        Like

  8. Grab the Lapels says:

    I’ve been updating everyone on my library class by including quotes from my reading each week in my Sunday Lowdown. One thing I learned is that it’s best to just straight-up ask the community what they want. it doesn’t matter what the library wants because it’s not about the staff’s feelings or beliefs. Some libraries put up a marker board and ask the community a big question. Why not ask, “Do you like holiday displays? Which ones would you encourage?” If staff start to get the vibe that the patrons are highly divided, they could do a seasonal display, such as winter books, fall books, horror around Halloween, etc. I personally don’t like specific holiday displays because I feel like the number of books suggest what the library prioritizes. For instance, we have shelves full of Christmas books in our holiday section, but only a couple of books about Kwanzaa. This says something about how inclusive the library is.

    Like

    • Krysta says:

      I like the idea of asking the community what they want! I do wonder how many libraries actually have asked.

      Yeah, that’s a problem every library seems to face. There are tons of Christmas books published, but not a lot for other holidays. I’m sure more libraries would buy those books if they were available!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Sammie @ The Writerly Way says:

    Our library celebrates only Christian holidays, pretty much. Which is a bummer, though we do live in an area in the Bible belt that is overwhelmingly, astoundingly Christian, so … to be expected.

    Since I just started, I don’t really feel like I have the “sway” right now to do anything about it, but next year, I definitely hope to ask about doing little displays for some other holidays, like Ramadan, Diwali, Hanukkah, and Dia de Les Muertos. I feel like even if people don’t celebrate those holidays, it’s nice to expose them to other cultures. Especially since our county is so small that it’s really common for people to grow up here and just never leave.

    Like

  10. M (the long hot spell) says:

    Great topic. Though I get grinchy when they’re overdone, I love displays related to different holidays and particularly in the context of a library where readers might then be inspired to borrow books with related cultural themes. It’s a good chance to be creative while encouraging borrowers to consider, and learn about, the diversity they have in their community. Your point regarding some cultures being ignored would be a good one, though. A library can never cover everything but they need to consult in order to not make large mistakes.

    Like

  11. Michael J. Miller says:

    I completely agree with everything you’ve said here. I love, love, love, loooove your idea about reaching out to the community for holidays they may not feel as comfortable with celebrating respectfully! With the more holidays the library includes, it not only makes more people feel welcome but it offers an incredible learning opportunity for the community itself too. Teaching a World Religions class, I’d love my students to have the chance to learn about and celebrate the different holidays relevant to the faiths we study. And I can totally appreciate how someone outside of the tradition could feel like they were “intruding” or being appropriative to go to a mosque or temple to celebrate Ramadan or Rosh Hashanah when that’s not their own tradition (nor would I encourage my students to “crash” something like that either). But if the library held celebrations it would allow people within the tradition and without to come together to celebrate and learn.

    Like

Leave a Reply! We'd love to read your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.